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Writing "Laughing Allegra" — An Interview with Anne Ford

Special needs stories-Special education stories Anne Ford is the Chairperson Emerita at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Ms. Ford's book, Laughing Allegra: The Inspiring Story of a Mother's Struggle and Triumph Raising a Daughter with Learning Disabilities, was released in 2003; in this interview, she talks about her reasons for writing this candid book about life with her daughter Allegra, who struggles with learning disabilities.

Anne, can you tell us why you decided to write Laughing Allegra?

I wrote the book for other parents as a story of hope and success. When I first joined NCLD twenty years ago, I wanted to become involved in its outreach to parents, so I answered the phones and responded to the mail. What I realized was that parents have an enormous need for information, insight, and guidance about learning disabilities and their consequences.

I also admit in my book to making many mistakes, largely because the information was not out there the way it is today. I wanted to share my mistakes with parents, so they could learn by them, and to express the fact that for each of us the journey is difficult. It is by sharing our common experiences that we can help each other and our children have a better future.

Can you tell us a little about why you choose Laughing Allegra as the title?

The late Cardinal O'Connor at my mother's wake in New York City was introduced to Allegra. He noted her name and remarked upon Longfellow's poem, "The Children's Hour," which referred to a character of the same name as "laughing Allegra." I had chosen her name because it means "happy" in Italian, and the Cardinal's comment seemed to convey what I believe is reflective of Allegra's personality, and what I have always cherished about her exuberance towards life.

Please tell us, what was the hardest part about writing this book?

It was hard to recall the painful and difficult moments. When writing brought back such powerful feelings, I would look down and draw pictures just to distract myself from feeling so sad again. The memories are so fresh, even years later. People have commented on my memory for detail. That's because the emotions are so close to the surface, even now. The other part of this experience that caused my emotions to well up was writing about the future. The hardest section to write was the one on what will happen to Allegra when I'm gone. It's hard to imagine someone loving her in the same way that I do.